Monitor level is distorted but no clipping.

I am using Windows Vista with the Realtek HD audio.

I am recording narration. I have a Sennheiser mic plugged into a preamp. The preamp is plugged into a Peavey mixer. There is no signal clipping on either the preamp or on the mixer. From the mixer I am plugged into the line in on my computer.

There is no clipping on the recording input monitor in Audacity. The signal is well below 0db. However, the monitoring makes it sound like the signal is distorting when I speak loudly or when I get too close to the mic. I am monitoring into headphones.

Even if the monitoring sounds like it is distorting, when I record and then playback, there is absolutely no distortion. I want to know how to get my monitor to accurately reflect what I am recording, while I am recording. It makes it difficult to judge what I am doing when it sounds like there is distortion.

I am plugged into the line in on my computer.

Are you sure? This is the exact place people get into trouble. Most Windows Laptops don’t have a real Stereo Line-In.

You are monitoring into headphones, but where are the headphones plugged in? It sounds OK on the mixer, right?

Can you make the bouncing red Audacity sound meters go up to -1 or even 0? Can you make the blue waves almost fill the area top to bottom? Does that still sound OK when you play that back?

By distorted, do you mean harsh and crispy and crunchy, or echoey and full of reverb?

Audacity > Edit > Preferences > Recording > Playthrough and de-select everything else.

Audacity > Edit > Preferences > Devices.
Make sure you are recording from the sound card and not Stereo Mix or What-U-Hear. Those only work for recording internet audio.


Sorry, I forgot to specify. I am using a desktop and I am plugged into the dedicated line in port. The recording level is -6db or lower. There is no clipping.

The headphones are plugged into the headphone jack on the computer. When I monitor the signal coming into the computer it sounds distorted as if there is too much gain. It sounds more, as you say, “harsh or crispy.” It’s rather faint at a normal distance from the mic (4inches or so) but gets much worse if you get closer to the mic. The bottom line is that the monitor is not accurately reflecting what is being recorded because when I play back what I recorded, there is no distortion at all, the signal sounds completely fine.

If I monitor from the mixer (in headphones) before the signal goes to the computer, it sounds fine. When I play back the recorded signal on my computer speakers (or headphones) it sounds fine.

I’ll try to clip the signal like you suggested and see how it plays back.

Well. Shucks. You’re not doing anything obvious wrong. I need to think about this a bit.

Sound cards can have two different Line-Out connections. the Green and the Black. I forget which is which but only one is intended for headphones. Sometimes you can tell because only one will change with the windows lower-right volume control.

I’m not fond of this answer, but nobody is going to award Windows sound cards any cups for high quality. We had an entire series of PC sound cards fail at work. It took us forever to find them all in the hundreds of computers.

Maybe one of the other elves has an idea.


It’s possible that during recording, the headphone feed is getting twice the minimum daily allowance of sound. If you have the Windows Control Panel sending the microphone to the sound card during record – and Audacity is sending the recording confirmation sound to the sound card at the same time, that’s serious overload.

Audacity > Edit > Preferences > Recording > [_] Playthrough (de-select).

You should hear nothing when you record your mixer. I’m betting it sounds fine.


I don;t want to resurrect an old thread…but this is EXACTLY my problem. I have read throughy through the thread and it is the same problel I am having. The ONLY difference is that I am on a mac. But just like the OP I have my mixer going into my line in on the mac and I have my headphones going into the headphones on the mac.

My files are not distorted, but when I monitor while recording with the “softthrough” setting on I get light to medium distortion in the headphones.

A few interesting bits of info. If I stop recording on Audacity. I can still ear distortion in the headphones for about 30 seconds, then it stops. I can’t hear the signal coming from the mixer. But, then if I hit record again, the signal from the mixer is audible along with the distortion.

Better to start a new topic on the MacOS forum. The Mac sound system is completely different to the Windows sound system.

Ok, thanks Steve. Will do.